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Mike Johnson Says His Removal Could Hand House Speakership to the Democrats

The chances are slim, but not impossible, that Hakeem Jeffries could become speaker of the House by next month.

With his head bowed and being led by an aide, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speeds from his office to the House Chamber ahead of a vote on a federal budget bill at the U.S. Capitol on March 22, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) candidly admitted on Monday evening that there is a slim chance he could lose the speakership within the next few weeks, and that Democratic House leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) could become the new speaker.

Johnson, who was interviewed by Fox News host Sean Hannity about the possibility of his removal, predicted it wasn’t likely to happen, but recognized there was a “risk” of it coming about, following Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Georgia) submission of a motion to vacate order against Johnson late last month.

Johnson said he viewed Greene’s motion as “a message” to him that a contingent of the GOP House conference was upset over his cooperating with Democrats to pass a resolution to keep the government open. The speaker appeared to state that he didn’t believe Greene would follow through on her threat.

“Marjorie knows how high the stakes are for the country. We all do. And that’s why it’s never been more important for us to stand together,” he said.

Even though he stated flatly that Jeffries “is not going to be the speaker,” at a different point in the interview, Johnson seemed to admit that there was a small “possibility.”

Greene’s motion isn’t set for a vote at this time, but that could change within a matter of weeks. If it’s successful — and if just a few moderate Republicans decide they’re fed up with their own conference enough to vote along with Democrats — it is technically possible that Jeffries could become speaker.

The House is currently in recess, set to return on April 9. Even when lawmakers return, the motion to vacate that Greene submitted will not be on the top of their agenda, as she submitted it without privilege — meaning, it will go through the normal course that other congressional orders or bills take, where it will likely fail in committee, if it even reaches that point.

But Greene could file the motion as a privileged one at a later time, too, requiring a vote on Johnson’s leadership due to a change in GOP conference rules last year that allows such motions to be brought forward by just one Republican member of the House.

Greene herself has stated that her motion is “more of a warning than a pink slip” to Johnson, but also that the “clock has started” against the speaker. She added that, if things don’t change regarding his leadership style, he could face a removal vote from her “in two weeks” or a “month.”

The Republicans’ majority in the House is incredibly slim, and it’s still shrinking — on April 19, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) is set to officially resign from the House rather than waiting until his term expires at the end of the year. When that happens, Republicans will only have a two-seat majority in the chamber, meaning that, if Greene and just one other Republican votes against Johnson’s speakership, he will be ousted from the position, assuming every Democrat in the chamber votes against him, too, as they did with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California).

Some centrist Democrats have suggested they won’t join in such a vote, however, as they do not want to signal that they’d back ousting a speaker who cooperated with them in a vote to fund the government.

“It’s absurd that he’s getting kicked out for doing the right thing, getting the keeping the government open. … The idea that he would be kicked out by these jokers is absurd,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-New York), following Greene’s submission of the motion to vacate. Suozzi said that he and a number of other Democrats would likely vote against the order as it stands right now.

However, Democrats did in fact vote against McCarthy, joining with a small number of Republicans against his motion to vacate challenge, even though McCarthy also led a bipartisan vote to keep the government open. They justified doing so by saying McCarthy wasn’t able to keep the extremist elements of his conference in line.

Voting to keep Johnson in power could be viewed by Democratic voters across the country as errant and hypocritical, as he is a noted far right Christian nationalist who also sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in order to illegally keep former President Donald Trump in the White House beyond his single term.

Jeffries himself hinted in February that Democrats in his conference wouldn’t back a motion to vacate order against Johnson, discussing the possibility of that happening at that time because of a possible bipartisan vote to fund Ukraine’s military defense against Russia, and weeks before Greene’s motion was submitted.

“There will be a reasonable number of people in the House Democratic Caucus who will take the position that he should not fall as a result” of such a bipartisan vote, Jeffries said.

Recent polling indicates that a plurality of American voters have a negative view of Johnson, and might be slightly more receptive to a Jeffries-led speakership.

According to an Economist/YouGov poll published last week, only a quarter of registered voters (25 percent) said they had favorable views of the current speaker of the House. Meanwhile, 41 percent said they had unfavorable views of him, with 33 percent saying they didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion. Taken together, the poll shows that Johnson has a net approval rating of -16 points.

Jeffries also has net-negative favorability ratings, but not nearly as high as Johnson’s numbers are. According to the poll, 29 percent of registered voters have favorable views of Jeffries , with 33 percent expressing unfavorable views, amounting to a net favorability rating of -4 points. Thirty-eight percent didn’t know enough about Jeffries to form an opinion.

When asked who voters would back if the 2024 congressional elections were held today, Democrats enjoyed a narrow lead, with 44 percent saying they’d vote for the Democratic candidate in their House race and 42 percent saying they’d back the Republican candidate. Twelve percent were unsure or said they’d vote for someone else.

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